EOP students Essence Williams (left) and Khadija Bhatti (right)
In 1968, Seton Hall University launched its Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) in order to provide educational and financial assistance to eligible New Jersey students of academic promise from disadvantaged backgrounds. Seton Hall was one of the first schools in the state to welcome a program of this nature and, 50 years later, EOP is thriving with more than 270 students.
EOP is a competitive leadership program that seeks students who are driven and goal-oriented. While SAT scores and writing skills are important components of the application, students’ future dreams and their ability to articulate them are what catch interviewers’ attention. EOP students receive financial assistance from New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund as well as personalized advising throughout their four years from a Student Development Specialist (SDS).
"As a low-income minority student, I didn't want my post-secondary education limited because of my financial situation. After finding out that Seton Hall, one of my top choices for private universities, offered additional aid through EOP, I knew I had to apply," said Essence Williams, a sophomore EOP student majoring in history with minors in diplomacy and Africana studies. "I knew the process would be hard, but the summer program, the community and the financial aid were amazing opportunities for a student with limited options. Seton Hall became a realistic option for me once I was accepted into EOP."
Most EOP graduates feel compelled to take what they learned at Seton Hall and apply it to their communities – an outcome the staff in the EOP office hope for. Notable EOP alumni that followed this path include Drs. Sampson Davis, Rameck Hunt and George Jenkins, co-authors of the New York Times' bestseller The Pact, former Mayor of Newark Luis A. Quintana and Michellene Davis, the first African American to serve as the Chief Policy Counsel for New Jersey.
"Our students in this program receive the tools and support they need to make a life-changing difference for themselves, for their families and their communities," explained Majid Whitney, associate dean and director of the Educational Opportunity Fund programs at Seton Hall. He is responsible for EOP as well as the pre-medical and pre-dental programs. With the healthcare industry rapidly expanding quicker than any other industry in the nation, there is a need "to create an inclusive, diverse medical field."
According to Whitney, the most notable feature of EOP is the access it grants students. Student Development Specialists and other staff in the program office are able to mobilize quickly to address student concerns and work in tandem with the Financial Aid Office, the Career Center, the Freshman Studies Program, University Libraries, Admissions and various academic departments to do so.
"EOP has impacted my life tremendously and because of the program I have been able to not only pursue my bachelor's but my master's degree as well. I will forever be grateful for EOP because of this," said Kiana Bernard '17, an EOP alumna currently pursuing her Master of Healthcare Administration in the School of Health and Medical Sciences.
To prepare EOP students for what life on a university campus will be like, the EOP office hosts a six-week Pre-Freshman Summer Program. During this program, students are enrolled in up to seven college credits, become acclimated to the various resources available to them and realize what is expected from them as a student in a rigorous college curriculum. Some students have the opportunity to take courses that will assist them in rebuilding foundations in subjects such as math and English to ensure they enter the semester on the same level as their classmates.
In addition to taking classes during the summer program, EOP students also meet their assigned SDS. Students and their specialist meet one-on-one on a weekly basis and the SDS serves as both advisor and mentor.
"We get to know each of our students really well and it's incredible to see them come in as first year students and blossom into successful students and professionals," said Carroll Alston, associate director of counseling and enrollment services in the EOP office.
In order to assist EOP students with tackling academic problems, the Center for Learning, Instruction and Assessment (CLIA) was established. CLIA offers diagnostic testing and evaluation, experiential academic courses, tutoring, structured study, educational enrichment and college success workshops.
"Studies show that the quicker students complete developmental courses, the more likely they are to exceed in college and graduate," said Maurice Ene, associate director of CLIA. "We understand that some students are more prepared than others. We work to quickly identify gaps and address them, so our students can move full speed ahead."
To celebrate 50 years of EOP, 250 students, alumni, staff, faculty and administrators gathered for the Annual Scholars Ball. Carroll Alston gave the keynote address and reflected on his time as a part of Bloomfield College's inaugural Educational Opportunity Fund class in 1968.
"EOP defrays the cost of attending Seton Hall, but it so much more than financial aid. The program has created a culture and climate for its students to feel a sense of belonging, and also one where our success as students is prioritized," said Khadija Bhatti, a senior Bhatti student majoring in political science. With encouragement and assistance from the EOP office, Bhatti has been able to take classes every summer to stay ahead and will be graduating with her bachelor's degree in only three years. "Many students in EOP are students of color, many are first generation, and many could not afford college without financial assistance. All of those problems could be prohibitive for students without a program like EOP."